The Lawsuit

Kevin S.: A Lawsuit to Fix New Mexico’s Broken Foster Care System

Read the full Complaint here.

Fourteen children in New Mexico’s foster care system, joined by Disability Rights New Mexico and the Native American Disability Law Center, filed a lawsuit seeking essential care, stability, treatment, and support for New Mexico’s 4,700 foster children. At the time of filing, New Mexico’s child welfare system was among the worst in the nation.

The Complaint emphasized that is the State’s responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of the children in its care. Every child entering foster care in New Mexico is highly likely to have experienced multiple forms of trauma. We know that exposure to complex trauma deeply impacts the development of a child. When unaddressed, the effects of trauma often result in problems with sleep, cognition, behavior, and emotional self-regulation.

The experiences of the Kevin S. plaintiffs painfully illustrated that children in state custody in New Mexico are repeatedly re-traumatized by being uprooted and cycled in and out of short-term emergency placements, such as homeless shelters, government offices, and residential treatment centers.

For years, New Mexico pushed its most vulnerable children through a broken foster care system as if they did not matter. The fourteen children who were plaintiffs in this case took a stand to hold accountable the system that failed to keep them safe.

The lawsuit alleged that an effective child welfare system must include:

  • Sufficient numbers of caseworkers, foster parents, and mental health professionals to ensure stable and supportive placements;
  • Screening for trauma and swift provision of appropriate, adequate, and coordinated behavioral health services;
  • Consistent monitoring of children’s health and treatment;
  • A holistic wraparound model that:
    1. facilitates collaboration between those responsible for providing care and services,
    2. ensures an individualized planning process for each child and
    3. focuses on sustaining relationships.

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